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May 18, 2010

Good Touch/Bad Touch Fail

Strangerdanger My seven year old daughter has been schooled in the dangers of sexual predators and strangers in general since she was three. That was the year her preschool introduced her class to the obligatory good touch/bad touch curriculum that has been repeated every school year since and is routinely reinforced by first me and then her step-father and I at home. 


"What if" and "What should you do" scenarios by the countless dozens were presented to Kat and she responded with the appropriate responses every single time.

Until it happened for real ... and she failed.

She didn't tell her Dad or me or a teacher or another trusted adult, and neither did the other two children who were with her at the park when every parent's nightmare scenario became a reality.

A week ago a teenage neighbor boy followed Kat and her two friends from next door down the street to the park in our little hamlet. It's barely a block from our home and due to the tiny number of children old enough to go to the park sans parents, it's usually empty. 

Kat's little friends are six and nine. The nine year old is the older brother of Kat's younger friend. It's the first time in the three years that we've lived here that Kat has had friends near her age to play with and both their parents and Rob and I have felt comfortable allowing the girls to go to the park if the older brother was along. The old illusion of safety in numbers.

The teen in question is not someone we've allowed Kat to associate with since an incident last summer when he ordered her out of a pick up soccer game in his front yard, telling her to "go home, no one wants to play with you." 

Rob found her sobbing by the side of our house and after coaxing the story out of her had a stern talk with the boy and advised Kat that he was to be avoided. Studiously she obeyed and I witnessed her on more than one occasion cut the teen dead in her zeal to ignore his greetings or queries when we'd see him at the book-mobile or out on the street.

He'd followed the children to the park and as the girls played on the swings with the older boy not far away on the slides, the teen exposed himself.

"I tried not to look, Mom," Kat told me as I pulled the details of the story from her with the patience of a police officer.

"Why didn't you come to me after it happened?" I asked.

"I thought I would be in trouble," she said. "Are you mad at me?"

And herein lies the problem with many of the programs that we trust are teaching our children the things they need to know in order to stay safe - they can't erase the fact that children have a logic all their own and it's not based on anything adults can understand anymore because we've forgotten what it's like to be that young, trusting and worried about everything in a world over which we have no control.

I assured her that I was not mad, but I was disappointed.

"Haven't we told you that it's important to tell us if something happens?" I asked.

She nodded. Tears welled up in her eyes.

"May I have a tissue, please?"

It didn't matter what she knew. All she understood was how she felt and she was frightened. More worried about how this incident would affect her relationship with her Dad and I than she was about what could have possibly happened to her as a result of keeping silent.

Program fail. Parent fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.

Rob confronted the teen, who denied everything. 

"He lied?" Kat asked. She couldn't believe that the teen would lie. Another scary bit of information for us to ponder. "I didn't lie."

"I know," her dad assured her.

"And you aren't mad at me?" More tears.

"No, of course not," he said.

Several tissues and many hugs and kisses later, Kat was calmed enough for her to go to bed. Her father and the neighbor children's father will talk with the teen's father. The issue of reporting this to the police is still an open one. As angry as I am, the boy in question is just fifteen. I taught children that age and although we like to believe that they really know right from wrong and are fully aware of long term consequences of their actions, the reality is a murkier shade of grey. I am not comfortable with tossing a troubled child into a law enforcement system that isn't designed to or interested in dealing with them at their level. And make no mistake, their level is "child".

I put a seemingly unmarked child on the school bus today. Happy and confident, talking about all the activities the day held. She appears less traumatized than am I, but that's hard to know. There are still things to take care of and new safety precautions to put in place, but it's sobering to know that everything we try to do can end up not being enough.

This is an original 50 Something Moms post by Ann Bibby of anniegirl1138.comand Care2.

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